Court battles make revenue from new leases in state parks, forests 'unlikely'
Pennsylvania won’t be able to rely on revenue from new natural gas leases on state lands to help plug a nearly $2 billion shortfall, according to the state’s top budget official.
Secretary Charles Zogby laid out Pennsylvania’s financial woes at a briefing Wednesday, noting some of the one-time stopgaps in Governor Tom Corbett’s $29 billion budget will not come to fruition. Among them is Corbett’s plan to raise $95 million by expanding natural gas leasing in state parks and forests which is facing two simultaneous Commonwealth Court battles.
“With that matter tied up in the courts, it’s very much unlikely that we will see that resolved in time for this fiscal year to be accounted in our spending plans,” Zogby said.
Corbett, a Republican, lifted a Rendell-era moratorium on new leasing in May, calling for a restrictive approach to drilling in state parks and forests that would not create new surface disturbances.
The Delaware Riverkeeper Network filed a direct challenge to Corbett’s order in October. A separate lawsuit, filed in 2012 by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation challenges the Governor’s authority to lease that land and to use the proceeds for the general fund. After a series of hearings, the case is now in the hands of seven Commonwealth Court judges and Governor-elect Tom Wolf.
Wolf, a Democrat, has said he supports maintaining a moratorium on new leasing in state parks and forests. He also campaigned on passing a 5 percent severance tax on gas drilling to generate additional revenue. However, that plan could face fierce opposition from the state’s Republican legislature.
correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly named the plaintiff organization as the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Fund, in fact it is the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation.